RIP: Peter Thomson 1928-2018, 5 Time Open Champion passes away


Peter Thomson

Peter William Thomson was born August 23, 1929, in Melbourne, Australia. He grew up in Brunswick, only a minute’s walk from the Royal Park Golf Course. When he was 12 year-old, in 1942, he began to play golf with an antique one-iron which was manufactured by Spalding Company early in the 20th century. He instructed himself with a mixture of cleeks, brassies, spoons and niblicks. He was furnished with an exceptional long irons game. Tony Walker wrote: “Peter Thomson’s proficiency with long irons might be attributable to leaning play that most challenging of clubs, and one that obliged him to hit down and through a golf ball to achieve loft.”

He won the club championship at age 15. He graduated with a Diploma of Applied Chemistry in 1945 at Footscray Technical School and worked for a short time as an industrial chemist at Spalding before giving up this job to turn professional golfer in 1949. He entered mainstream golf tournaments in 1950 when he won his first of nine New Zealand Opens. He won the Open Championship five times (1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, & 1965), becoming the only golfer of the 20th century to lift the Claret Jug on three consecutive occasions between 1954 & 1956.

In his final victory at the Open Championship, he left Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus far behind and overtook the defending champion, Tony Lema, winning at Royal Birkdale, also the site of Thomson’s first Open victory.
“What they used to nominate as the Big Three — that was Palmer, Nicklaus and Player — had sort of overwhelmed the golf scene, and it was a question of which of the three was going to win,” Thomson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2005, recalling his victory 40 years earlier. “And here’s little me, got in the way,” he continued. “I didn’t doubt myself, that I could do it as well as they could, but I think the general world of golf did, that I was a back number, and here were the modern heroes, and I proved that to be wrong.”

By 1970, he has captured twenty-six championships in Europe, nineteen in Australia, and eleven in Asia. He finished in the top ten in 30 percent of his PGA Tour starts. He got a sole victory, however, at the 1956 Texas Open. As an observer of the game, he suggested that he would not ever win The Masters because he wasn’t long enough to reach the par-five holes in two shots at Augusta. His game was ideal for the British seaside venues: low, running shots on hard course. He won eleven events in the Senior PGA Tour between September 1984 & October 1985. He has been a contributing golf writer since the fifties, TV commentator, president of the Australian PGA from 1962-1994, golf course designer on more than 250 courses, and captain of the Presidents Cup International team three times.

Throughout his career Thomson managed to play golf at the highest level without ever reading the views of others on how the game should be played, not because of his own technical maturity but because it confused his mind. He believed that it was humility to say nothing out of his own swing. This practice indicates nothing except cleverness and a display of erudition. You do not need theory, and so he was not going to theorize on the technique of golf. He was educated to the idea that all conscious awareness of one’s own swing must be done away with before the perfection of the swing be truly experienced by the golfer. Thomson was definitely in favor of analyzing what he felt was wrong, then going to the practice ground to put those thoughts into practice. “If he was clear in his own mind that he had identified what he was doing wrong,” Peter Allis said, “that was good enough. Those thoughts were set in his mind, now there were other things to contemplate.”

Thomson never acted like a star. He would read the life of Gandhi and enjoyed catholic music. His game was quite a simple matter of careful planning, clear thinking and applying the logic of common sense. He did not reduce his understanding of golf to simply technical concepts. Learning the fundamentals is only a part. As Ben Hogan pointed out, “(they) do not cover all of golf, or even one-hundredth of that almost inexhaustible subject.” Thomson gradually came to see that he did not need to work at it. It came naturally to him. See a target and, avoiding potential trouble, hit the target; quite straightforward.

He recognized their value but he learned golf by playing. Neither did he ever provide any basis for an abstract discussion of what might be the best way to swing the club-head. He seems to confirm Cotton’s conclusion that no theory about the swing can be written in stone. It is not worth therefore the effort to standardize golf instruction for, as Thomson believed, standardization is destined to fail.

In 1979 Thomson was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service. He was the nonplaying captain of the international team that defeated the United States in the 1998 Presidents Cup at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, and he was captain in its losing efforts in 1996 and 2000. He was president of the Australian P.G.A. from 1962 to 1994 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988.

He died on Wednesday, June 20, in Melbourne. He was 88. His death was announced by Golf Australia, the sport’s governing body in that country, which said he had been treated for Parkinson’s disease for the past four years.

Claudia Mazzucco

Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005

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